But the 59-year-old Xi, who on Thursday was named as the Secretary General of the party, has also worked hard to cultivate a softer image that is more relatable than most of China's technocratic Communist leaders.
Xi was born into wealth, but during his teenage years his family was banished to the countryside after his father, a former vice premier, had a falling out with Communist leader Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution.
Villager Shi Yudong knew Xi during his time in the community of Liangjiahe in Shaanxi Province, and says he left a favorable impression. Shi hopes Xi's time in the countryside will help shape his attitudes toward governing.
"I feel that, because he climbed up the ladder from the countryside, he knows something about corruption. So there is hope he will do something about it," Shi said.
Xi spent time in the military and later became governor of Fujian, the mainland province just across the water from Taiwan. Observers say those experiences smoothed his political rise and made him popular at home.
He is married to popular folk singer Peng Liyuan, who for many years was more famous than her husband. Their daughter studies at the prestigious Harvard University under a pseudonym, like the children of many of China's Communist leaders.
Not much is known about how the largely private Xi will govern. Observers say he rose through the ranks of the Communist Party by being cautious and building consensus. While many think he will continue China's economic reforms, no major changes are expected before Xi has time to solidify his power base.
In his speech Thursday, Xi said he will continue China's policy of reforming and opening up. He also repeated the Communist party language of advancing "socialism with Chinese characteristics."
After serving as vice president for five years, Xi takes over at a time when China is becoming increasingly assertive in its foreign policy. He is known to have good relations with many in the United States, which Beijing views as its chief rival.
Xi, who is a fan of the National Basketball Association and Hollywood-produced World War II movies, has visited the United States multiple times, including in 1985 when he led a delegation to ((the midwestern state of)) Iowa to research agriculture while serving as a local party secretary.